Civil Divorce as Protest

A reader writes:

I am curious about the idea of protesting the United States’ possible attempt to redefine of marriage by divorcing. Not *really* divorcing, mind you, but simply going through the state procedures necessary to nullify that state’s marriage certificate. This would in no way include separating, or married couples ceasing to be husband and wife (such is impossible, after all). It would be nothing more than a protest against the principle of secular states exercising jurisdiction over Christian marriages. This isn’t something my wife and I are planning, but the idea is intriguing. What say you?

I don’t see why not.  The function of the state is *supposed* to be to protect the family. When the state becomes the enemy of the family then I see no particular reason to submit to it.  What matters, for a Catholic, is the sacrament of marriage, not filling out paperwork for the state.  It may well be the duty of Catholics to work to subverty the state soon. We’ll see.

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  • Robert

    With our economy the way it is? I’m not saying that upper/upper-middle class Catholics standing for marriage who find this idea “intriguing”, or even something they would want to try wouldn’t be affected by not having the benefit of marriage, but it’s going to affect the majority of people who would want to try this much more. Even if there were other legal avenues to getting the same or close to the same legal and economic benefits of a marriage, I’m pretty sure those avenues probably aren’t as equipped to service them as expediently as plain-old state-sanctioned marriage, if at all. Another huge thing would be spousal privilege going out the window. If people actually tried this and there were legal troubles within a marriage, ones that would prescribe testifying in court, the scene wouldn’t be great.

  • deiseach

    Sorry, I think it’s about as intriguing as, well, cutting your nose off to spite your face. With civil marriage already in rocky enough shape, the last thing it needs is sets of couples civilly divorcing yet remaining cohabitants.

    Unless Joe and Jane Catholic are going to go around wearing t-shirts explaining “Civilly divorced but still married”, what the great mass of people will see is “See? American Catholics think divorce is just fine! And they don’t let the Church tell them if they’re living in sin! Personal choice is supreme!”

  • Tom K.

    If you go through the state procedures necessary to nullify that state’s marriage certificate, guess what? You’re really divorced.

    As a way of protesting against the principle of secular states exercising jurisdiction over Christian marriages, how is divorcing better than buying a parrot and training it to say, “First Amendment! First Amendment!”?

  • Elaine S.

    A much better form of protest would be for couples to have completely separate civil and religious weddings to emphasize the fact that what the State calls “marriage” and what the Church calls the Sacrament of Marriage are NOT the same. Or, for Catholic clergy to stop signing off on civil marriage licenses — if you were going to be married by a priest who did this, your LEGAL wedding would have to take place at the courthouse/city hall ahead of time. That procedure, however, is no different from 1) what Catholic couples have already done for centuries in countries that don’t legally recognize religious weddings (e.g. Monaco) and 2) what the Church already does when couples who have been married outside the Church have their marriages “blessed” or convalidated.

    • Kirt Higdon

      I’m with you 100%, Elaine, and I’ve advocated this for years. It’s already the practice in most European and Latin American countries.

    • kenneth

      I’m with you 100% on this, but I don’t see it as a form of “protest.” It’s the arrangement that should have been in place from day one in this country. This confluence of state and religious marriage has fed the delusion that civil marriage is anything more than a civil union and thus needs to be defended as a sacrament of some sort. It never has been and never will be, and separating the two completely would preserve the integrity of both religion and the state.

      • Jon W

        Just to be clear, Catholic arguments about the nature of civil marriage (including one man/one woman and the harmfulness of artificial birth control) are not at all based on their sacramental ideals. Civil marriage has its basis in natural law, not religious observance.

        • kenneth

          Which is a not so terribly sophisticated way of asserting that “my religion isn’t sectarian, it’s just really the way things are, so you have to follow it.”

          • Jon W

            Oh my freaking goodness, kenneth. You make claims about the nature of reality and the good all the time.

            • kenneth

              Of course I do. I have very definite religious beliefs, but I don’t have the hubris to believe that the state should be enforcing them on others.

              • Beadgirl

                To be fair, we only want the state to enforce *some* of them :>

              • Mark Shea

                All law is imposed morality and all morality is ultimately rooted in one’s beliefs about the ultimate nature of reality. In short, in religion.

                • kenneth

                  Laws do derive from understandings of the nature of reality (which may or may not be rooted in a “religion.” However, our system of government from the start derived from an understanding of humanity which believes that a person’s relationship with the divine, if any, is their own business and no one else’s.

                  Government is supposed to have no role at all in compelling conscience or observance of religion, and is supposed to do nothing more than carve out a safe space for the individual to thrive as they will. Restrictions are only supposed to be those necessary to prevent mayhem and enable functional commerce. The rationale behind such restrictions must show a compelling reason why they should override the presumption of freedom and also must be secular in nature (if freedom of conscience and religion is to mean anything at all).

                  In all these years of wrangling, the anti-SSM movement has never once articulated a data-based argument against gay marriage that does not ultimately appeal to “my god says so.” Unless and until someone advances a secular argument with testable and repeatable data, it’s a theocratic argument. Many of you are, in a roundabout way, owning up to that fact by asserting “since everything we do derives from an ultimate understanding, our theocracy is no worse than yours.”

                  • Jon W

                    How can you say this? We have articulated and argued the case again and again and again, on purely natural law grounds. Your side has dismissed all our arguments and concerns as unfounded, when it is you who have to make a compelling case for changing the universal practice of mankind.

                    Your definition of marriage is not the one the world uses. Your description of its purposes do not line up with the purposes for which it has always existed. You would expose millions of children to ever more instability in ever more socially unprotected families. You would deliberately create and then deprive human beings of one of their parents, either their own mother or their own father, in order to satisfy the desires of adults.

                    And you have the gall to say that our arguments are purely “religious”. You have an ideology of “equality” that is distorting your whole understanding of the human race.

                    • kenneth

                      “Natural Law” is not a secular argument. It is a proxy for a religious view that people have tried to airbrush to look like a science. It is nothing of the sort as it proposes no testable and refutable hypotheses. It’s nothing more than an assertion that “everyone knows” x,y and z just by observing nature and how things have “always been.”

                      Although it purports to be rooted in science, it deliberately ignores vast bodies of scientific evidence that inconvenience its assertions in any way, including the consensus of the medical and psychological communities and evolutionary biology. There is a growing body of evidence that homosexuality is not maladaptive in nature and may even enhance reproduction within human families who carry the gene sets. The “science” of natural law has hermetically sealed itself off from data like this, or any lines of inquiry that might challenge its theories.

                      It is therefore not a science, anymore than young Earth creationism is a science. It is an ideology that feels the need to don a lab coat to enhance its credibility with modern people. Your movement has been asked a simple question, in ten thousand different ways and over more than a decade. What is the evidence that gay marriage has caused or is likely to cause bad outcomes for society sufficient to bar it or to consider maintaining that prohibition? Show us the data.

                      What have we gotten in response to that simple request? Oceans of hate speech, conspiracy theories, assertions that the answer is so self evident no data is required, dissembling, lots of smoke and noise, a salting of junk science. Absolutely everything under the heavens. Except the data. Public policy questions sooner or later turn on data. If you had any, you wouldn’t need all this “it’s not religion” chicanery, and you wouldn’t be fighting a rear-guard action in virtually every country in the West, including some which have much stronger Catholic traditions than our own.

                    • Jon W

                      Are you another Science fundamentalist, kenneth? Seriously? All this time I thought you were a little more reasonable than Richard Dawkins. Sheesh.

                      Natural Law is not Science. Natural Law is philosophy, and philosophy is about thinking carefully about what it means to exist and live as rational beings. You’re sitting here condemning our “backwardness”. That’s philosophy. That’s Natural Law. You think the sole purpose of the state is to “carve out a nice safe space where people can choose to live however they please.” That’s philosophy. That’s Natural Law. It’s piss poor Natural Law, but it’s Natural Law, nonetheless.

                      There is a growing body of evidence that homosexuality is not maladaptive in nature

                      Whether or not something is adaptive or maladaptive in nature is totally subordinate to whether it’s good or bad for humans living in human society. Rape is sometimes “adaptive” in nature, but so what?

                      Show us the data.

                      You can’t measure happiness and human flourishing that easily. The kind of “data” that applies to this question can’t be given a number and a cash value. It’s the sober reflection that looks back a landscape strewn with the broken souls of people who have been dragged around by their own and others’ basic impulses.

                      Data? Faugh. You can’t even answer:

                      How is it just to deliberately deprive a child of his or her mother or father, to tell that child that he doesn’t even have a father, just two mothers? And it wasn’t a tragic accident, that you did it to him deliberately. He never gets to hope that one day he’ll meet his father, or find out about him from people who knew and loved him. He has no father.

                      How is it wise to take a social institution in which kinship and relationships are taken as givens, to be recognized but not meddled with by the state, and place them in the sole defining power of the state? (And once again, we’re talking about what’s to become the norm, not situations like adoption.)

                      How does it make any sense at all to place multiple-partner relationships on the same level as man-woman parental relationships, and afford them identical rights and privileges? Because your side has yet to offer any reasonable objection to the point that your definition of the purposes and nature of marriage cannot distinguish between two or three or four or five-party relationships. All you can do is stuff your fingers in your ears and say “La la la, there’s no slippery slope!” when confronted with the obvious rational consequences of the presuppositions.

                      Data? You want to start measuring happiness and human flourishing with data? Go join your friends on Wall Street then. They’ve got all the best “data”. It’s got pictures of dead presidents on it, and it buys and sells men and women every day. It promises happiness and delivers misery. It airbrushes the covers of Cosmo and pours cheap beer down the throats of men who are told there’s no such thing as virtue.

                      You have a pathological ideology, kenneth. The entire modern West does. It takes one aspect of human existence (freedom) and blows it up until it becomes The Most Important Thing. I totally admit it, the Catholic Church has probably lost the West. Too bad for the West. We’re just trying to keep the damage to a minimum so we have less work to do picking up the pieces.

                  • S. Quinn

                    Kenneth, Kenneth. You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. Please, take a little break and STUDY these issues – not from a secular or strictly philosophical point of view, which badly truncates them, but steep yourself in really good quality theology for awhile. Natural Law has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH “everybody knows” something. It is not a science nor an ideology. It has NEVER PURPORTED to be science. It has NO RELATION to fundamentalist creationism.It is carefully nuanced (read, for example Benedict XVI and Tracey Rowland on its problems).
                    Leaving aside Natural Law, if you cannot even, in your wildest dreams, imagine anything that is not either science OR superstition, then you are in the grips of madness. You might try Conor Cunningham’s brilliant book, “Darwin’s Pious Idea” subtitled something like “why both creationists and Darwinists get it wrong.” Please. You might learn something. You just keep putting your foot in your mouth and not even knowing you are doing it.

                    • kenneth

                      Again, torrents of insult which distill down to “I got bupkiss for data, but you’re a jerk for not seeing the self-evident truth of my theology and Just the Way Things Are.” The issue isn’t my alleged Dawkins materialism (I’m not an atheist, BTW) or the depth or beauty of your own theology.

                      It’s about the standard of evidence specifically used by our form of government and increasingly employed in most democracies. That standard presumes people have freedom and an entitlement to equal treatment before the law, unless the government can demonstrate a fairly compelling reason why that should not be so. That case requires data, not theology, not philosophy. Our government was envisioned to maintain the common good by intruding very minimally on the sphere of individual conscience and living by such conscience. The state is not our bishop, nor pastor, nor parents, nor philosopher king whose job it is to craft the ideal Polis.

                      In this regard, we will always be talking past each other. I, and the majority of this country, and probably the West as a whole place a higher premium on individual freedom than you do. We have very different ideas of the threshold for when government should legislate morals. Hate it though you may, we have a consistent burden of proof. The anti-SSM movement has failed utterly to meet it, and has very often considered it beneath contempt to even try.

                      So long as that is true, you will continue to lose the debate in the West for the foreseeable future, your anger and indignation notwithstanding. Jon seems to say that it’s just not possible to quantify the supposed unhappiness of SSM households. Horse hockey! Of course it is. Happiness and unhappiness affect real world outcomes.

                      These outcomes can be measured and quantified, and it’s not like I’m asking you to sort out the dark matter problem. You control for all other factors and see if kids from gay marriage households have worse outcomes, consistently, than their peers who are alike in every other way. Do that for real, not the tripe that NARTH and Regnerus produced, come back with data, and we can have a very different debate.

                    • Jon W


                      What kind of data will measure the misery of children told they don’t have a father (or a mother) vs the misery of homosexuals who are told the state won’t sponsor their relationship?

                    • kenneth

                      “What kind of data will measure the misery of children……?”
                      That’s easy. Kids who feel truly “miserable” in their family situations have worse outcomes in childhood, adolescence and even adulthood. They have higher rates of depression, and substance abuse, and self-harm, and relationship trouble, and involvement with the criminal justice system.

                      We know what misery looks like in this context, and how to quantify it. If there is truly widespread misery owing to children having gay parents, we could find it, and probably would have found it by now. Being raised by gay parents is not at all a new phonomenon, and was not invented by the recognition of gay marriage. We can also measure outcomes of gay people who have the benefits of legal marriage versus those who do not, and the outcomes of kids raised in those varying situations.

                      Your supposition that kids are just shattered by the fact that they have two dads or two moms does not square with what we know of child development. There is a very solid consensus among every major professional organization in this area that the quality of family dynamics – ie stability, quality of parenting etc. are important driver of outcomes for kids. The orientation of the parents is not. There is also evidence that kids do better in situations where the parent’s union is legally recognized.

                      I’m all in favor of doing ongoing science – real apples to apples comparisons – in these areas and letting the results lead where they may. The anti-SSM movement has fastidiously resisted doing such science despite clearly having the financial capacity to undertake it. In fact, the movement’s overall strategy is to de-legitimize science as a discipline, much as creationism does, because it cannot engage the material on its own terms. The mountains of evidence, the vast scientific and medical consensus that homosexuality is not a cause or predictor of pathology – all that is just a conspiracy by gay activists, we’re told.

                      If there was serious science to back your position, you’d have it by now, and you’d be winning in the public policy sphere, or at least be fighting an effective holding action.

  • Matt Bowman

    I don’t understand how it is a protest, or how it would harm the state. Instead it would cause the state to meddle more in your life, since the state could exert itself in child custody and other issues on the grounds of the marriage not being present anymore. Marriage is a buffer against state overreach. Jennifer Roback Morse discussed this in a few articles where she explained to libertarians that you can’t really “get the state out of the marriage business”–instead you would just end up with the government exerting more control over the lives of parents and children.

    • Jon W

      Does this Jennifer Roback Morse have any “data”? Because apparently rational arguments don’t mean anything without it.

  • Obpoet

    I think its a brilliant idea. Just have joint custody of the kids. No marriage penalty on tax day!! Yea!

    • kenneth

      No health insurance for the kids either, if they happen to be your spouse’s from a previous marriage. They’re just the offspring of whoever you’re shacking up with at the time, under the law.

      • Beadgirl

        Actually, they are the offspring of whoever’s named on the birth certificate. If there is no father listed, the legal presumption in most states, I believe, is the that the mother’s husband is the father. As far as I am aware, there is no legal presumption that any companion, roommate, or lover is the father.

  • Silly Interloper

    I think that’s a horrible idea. Essentially you are suggesting that we validate the invalidity of marriage. You suggest that we assist the state to cheapen marriage. No way. And, although the sacrament is extremely important, it is by no means the *only* thing that marriage is.

  • Kate

    No. Civil marriage may be weak, but it still provides important protections for women and children. The most initially committed faith-filled couple may see periods of despair and sin and conflict, and the hurdles of civil divorce still provide some hedge against casual dissolution and abandonment. The Church doesn’t have the power to adjudicate in cases where one spouse abruptly leaves both Faith & marriage.

  • Ghosty

    The thing that confuses me in these discussions is that many Catholics at least appear to believe that the state has some proper role in marriage in the first place, and that this role is now being corrupted by things like homosexual marriage. It was only recently that states began to take a role in marriage, and that the Church began to require people to be be legally married in order to get validly married, and it seems like a foolish experiment to me.
    That said, I also think that at this point too much has been ceded to the state; we are effectively in the “how were we supposed to know” stage of history, and it has been the Church that has ceded moral authority over marriage, at least in this country. The moment the Church started requiring people to get state licenses to marry (not a requirement of Canon Law, IIRC, but in practice at least in the U.S.) the Church gave the power over a Sacrament to a secular state that changes based on popular vote. Big mistake, IMO.

    Peace and God bless!

    • mattmugg

      The idea raised here, i.e, should parties in “traditional” (hate having to use the qualifier) couples get divorced, raises all kinds of questions of a legal, practical, canonical, political, and moral nature. When I figure them all out, I’ll add up the pros and cons and get back to you. Before doing that, the idea is appealing. IMHO the whole contemporary debate over whether the state should recognize this or that type of union as “marriage” is based on a misunderstanding of the state’s relationship to marriage. More than some kind of individual civil right, graciously bestowed by the state, marriage (“true” marriage) is a benefit to the State and to the common good. It also pre-dates the state. If anything, the state comes from marriage, and not the other way around. The contemporary state and the citizenry have decided they can do without the benefit of marriage, first and foremost through the regime no-fault divorce, recognition of common law marriage, etc. So-called same, so-called sex, so-called marriage is but the final –almost symbolic — act by which the state now completes its gradual renunciation of any claim that traditional marriage is good for the state. Today, there are no significant legal protections to married people, and what are the benefits? I haven’t come across them and i certainly am not motivated by them. I don’t call the fact that it’s a bit of a drag to get divorced –paperwork, court appearance, etc.– a legal protection. I also don’t call default tenancy by the entirety, much of a benefit. It seems to me that if there really were more legal benefits to being married, the movement to promote SSM would not be so embarrassingly full of arguments such as “We want the state to recognize our love,” etc. So the state no longer values marriage as I understand it. Fine. I wish it luck. Early results from no-fault divorce are not encouraging, but maybe it will work out OK. It’s just that I don’t want traditional marriage to be confused with new marriage, when they are so different in every respect.

      An analogy to this would be the practice of religion. I don’t practice my religion because the state (First Amendment, our case) allows me to. At least in America, where we have a noble tradition of religious freedom, it still doesn’t follow that my practice of religion stems from the First Amendment. I am always free to practice my religion, in the Gulag or elsewhere. The state can’t define my religion it can only inconvenience or disincentivize observance.

      At some point in the year 2150 or thereabouts, the state (or remnants thereof) may come back, hat in hand, and say: “We’re sorry. We made a mistake. Will you married people please come back and help us?” At which point, my great-great…. grandchildren will have to make their own decision on whether to have anything to do with these clowns.

    • Jon W

      The thing that confuses me in these discussions is that many Catholics at least appear to believe that the state has some proper role in marriage in the first place, [...] It was only recently that states began to take a role in marriage

      Augh! Augh!

      If you’re going to define “state” like that, then the “state” only began to exist in the last 500 years so it was only recently that it began to take a role in the punishment of murder, too.

      C’mon. The community, the society, as expressed in the various practical organs of that society has always been involved with marriage. Someone saying differently is either ignorant or disingenuous.

      • Ghosty

        Society in general is something vastly different from a structured body of laws, and a functioning organization, that operates to regulate said society. That my neighbors recognize me as being married has nothing to do with the legal apparatus that defines me as married and sets my taxes and legal privileges based on that definition.
        If the state simply said “society calls them married, so they are married under the law” then we wouldn’t have this discussion and difficulty at all. Instead things are now upside down, with the legal apparatus coming first and societal (and religious) recognition coming second, and even the Church in the U.S. acquiesces to this. The Church in the U.S. even goes so far as to require people to get state documentation prepared in order to receive the Sacrament of Marriage; this goes way beyond a gathering of the community at a wedding for recognition of the union. When priests have to see the marriage license issued by the state before performing the Sacrament, things have gone askew and moral authority has been ceded to a secular power.
        To me it seems disingenuous for the Church to be protest the state making its own definitions of marriage when it has handed all of that power to it in the first place, and I say this as someone who is opposed to homosexual “marriage”.

        Peace and God bless!

        • Jon W

          Society in general is something vastly different from a structured body of laws, and a functioning organization, that operates to regulate said society.

          Nope. The structured body of laws is the society acting in a particular way. It’s not different. The body of laws does not exhaust society, but it is an expression of that society.

          • Ghosty

            It is representative of a measure of society, insofar as it is a democratic institution, but it is not the same thing as society itself. States have existed for millenia, yet state involvement in marriage in the manner we’re speaking (and least in Christian cultures) began with the Church of England for obvious reasons, when in England one had to be married by a clergyman of the Church of England regardless of religious affiliation (it was especially difficult for Catholics, as you can imagine). In that case the Church and the state were a linked body, with the head of the CoE being the head of state, and it was through that link that states became involved in marriage. It was still several centuries before such a crossover occurred in Catholic countries, and it is not the rule in all of them (perhaps not even the majority of them, for all I know).

            Prior to that it was a matter of local recognition and Canon Law, and this notion that it was the role of the state to somehow defend or establish marriage contracts was non-existant. This is why the Church of England incident occurred in the first place, in fact.

            Now perhaps you’re simply arguing that proper marriages are a part of the common good, and the state must support the common good. That I can agree with, but the functionality of the current marriage system in the U.S. is not necessary for this. As it stands I must be authorized to be married by a representative of the state, whether proper or delegated, and the Catholic Church in the U.S. goes along with this by saying that I can only be validly married under the eye of this authority from the state. It does not suffice to have real, living members of the society I live in witness and affirm it (which was the manner of marriage recognition by society for most of the two thousand years of Church existence), it must be stamped and approved by the apparatus of the state, a relationship that arose out of a protest and attack against the Church.

            Under such circumstances the Church is at the mercy of the state to approve our Sacraments, an absurd position to be in. Until our entire approach to marriage in the U.S. changes, and we have completely separate civil and religious marriages as can be found in many Catholic countries, we have very little social high ground in insisting that our model of marriage be upheld by the state (which has its own interests and functions, and represents a society that is far broader than merely Catholics or even Christians. As it stands we are put at the mercy of the decisions of the state with regard to our marriages, and this is done consciously by the hierarchy in the U.S.

            Peace and God bless!

  • Kelly

    I think I agree with deiseach about the nose, and with Tom about the parrot. I guess this protest idea seems wrong somehow to me.

    I do think there are a million better ways to be subversive: first, have a good marriage, and raise up godly Children. Do random acts of kindness, forgive your enemies, leave pro-life pamphlets in bathrooms, donate money to good charitable causes, and most of all: pray. Prayer is the great, cosmic siege on Satan’s crumbling kingdom. Prayer is the trebuchet and the catapult and the battering ram, and is far and away the most effective agent of change on earth.

  • Frank Lee

    The gov ignores protests, so no, not as a protest. The state is arbiter of material goods, so if there is a material advantage, then yes. Tax, social benefits, and estate consequences are, in some jurisdictions, better for singles than marrieds. Do a cost-benefit analysis comparing the pros and cons of married vs single statuses in your jurisdiction, factor in the cost of a legal divorce, and decide accordingly. The secular state is an inhuman machine. Treat it accordingly.

    • mattmugg

      Not a protest but a witness.

  • kenneth

    If you want to leave that institution on a civil level, good riddance. Maybe some of you will have your eyes opened to what gays have been living with for so long. We hear all the time in this forum how gays don’t really need marriage. They can get all their legal affairs in order with powers of attorney etc. Give it a test drive and report back to us in a few years. Forgo your spouse’s pension and Social Security and see what it’s liked to get tossed out of your partner’s hospital room by the in-law you never could stand.

  • JoAnna

    I agree with Elaine.

  • ctd

    Wow, I am surprised by the lack of understanding about the Church’s teaching about civil marriage in these discussions. The Church recognizes two types of marriage: sacramental and civil. The only one relevant to this discussion is the civil marriage. The Church teaches that the institution of marriage (again not the sacrament of marriage) is not only the fundamental institution of society, but an essential component of the common good and necessary, indeed indispensable, to the protection of the family and the life and dignity of the human person. This is why the Church is opposed to redefining marriage – for anyone, anywhere, Catholic or not.

    To divorce in protest would amount to giving up on the importance of civil marriage and living a life where only a sacramental marriage mattered. That might be fine for some religious groups, but it would clearly be contrary to Catholic teaching.

    Remember, the civil society will always fail to live up to its expectations. That does not mean, however, that we can withdraw from it.

    • mattmugg

      ctd says:
      April 17, 2013 at 9:16 am
      >>>Wow, I am surprised by the lack of understanding about the Church’s teaching about civil marriage in these discussions….To divorce in protest would amount to giving up on the importance of civil marriage and living a life where only a sacramental marriage mattered. That might be fine for some religious groups, but it would clearly be contrary to Catholic teaching.>>>

      I think you might be overstating the case a bit. The obligation, such as it is, would be similar to the obligation to pay taxes, or accept being drafted to fight in a war. Both recommended, in most cases, but certainly not required. You’d have to argue that to refuse to pay taxes or accept the draft would be sinful in all cases, which can’t be true.

      • ctd

        A good point if we were talking about the obligation of Catholics to have a civil marriage. I was not writing about that. I was writing about the obligation to defend civil marriage, which is relevant to deciding whether to protest the state of civil marriage by divorce.

        • Jon W

          Thank you, ctd. This reply is in lieu of an upvote button, which I would click 100 times if Patheos had one.

        • mattmugg

          Civil marriage understood to include no-fault divorce, common law, and now SSM has become a non-binding contract pretty much unmoored from any historical meaning. I’m guessing you want to protect civil monogamous marriage. Why is monogamy something to be preserved by the state? I’d say monogamy is a cultural peculiarity of Judeo-Christian societies.

          • Jon W

            When women are valued as much as their their full personhood demands, then monogamy makes perfect, natural law sense. Let’s continue to enforce our recognition of the full personhood of women by encouraging (if not forcing) men to pay that kind of attention to only one, even in cases where their charisma, wealth, power, or status might give them license to attract and support many more.

  • Brian Gerwels

    I think that part of the difficulty is that the State uses the term “marriage” to describe a certain type of institution and the Catholic church uses the term “marriage” (with the same exact spelling and pronunciation) to describe a different institution. These two institutions are growing further apart and having less in common. However, the fact that they use the word “marriage” which sounds a lot like the word “marriage” makes many people see them as the same. But suppose the state used a different word. Suppose it granted “shacking up licenses” instead. Suppose that these “shacking up licenses” granted all the same rights and privileges as what they call “marriage” does? Would Christians feel any compulsion to acquire a “shacking up licence”?

    • kenneth

      “Would Christians feel any compulsion to acquire a “shacking up licence”?…………

      Probably not, but they would feel a compulsion to impose their religious beliefs on others acquiring them.

      • Jon W

        Would you kindly stop implying that when Christians impose their beliefs on others it’s some kind of persecution, but when you do it it’s some kind of brave witness to the true nature of a good society?

        All witnesses and stands for the common good involve “imposing your beliefs on others”. If they didn’t, then you wouldn’t have to take a stand for the good. Everyone would just do it, and we could all go back to our model train layouts and Minecraft servers.

      • Beadgirl

        We are also “imposing” our religious beliefs by supporting laws that criminalize murder, theft, and perjury. If you want to have a discussion about *which* beliefs (secular or religious) should be imposed on a community via laws, and which should be left individual conscience or social/familial pressure, that’s one thing. But suggesting that imposing one’s religious views on others is *inherently* wrong is silly.

        • kenneth

          So our only real point of dispute with the Taliban is in the text of the law and perhaps the degree of coercion that is acceptable?

          • Jon W

            Just because the natural law has a religious character does not mean that knowledge of it relies on a revelation from God. It is a religious thing to honor life, but you don’t have to have the Bible in front of you to know not to murder.

            Catholics differ with the Taliban in that we do not think it is right to impose a law that can only be known through revelation on someone who does not share the same faith. But plenty of laws can be known through reason without revelation. You and I might differ about which laws we know and how well we know those laws and which laws it would be wise to apply by a state on a society of people at a particular level of virtue. These things we work out in a democratic society by argument.

            But don’t try to rule a particular law out of court as “religious” just because the Catholic church teaches it as a moral obligation. The Catholic Church teaches that all the natural law is a moral obligation.

          • Beadgirl

            Jon W explained it quite well. The problem with the Taliban isn’t that they are religious, or Islamic, or from a different ethnicity and culture. The problem with with some of their laws (I’m fine with others, like the prohibitions against stealing, even if I disagree vehemently with their punishments — again, nothing to do with their religious origin) is that they are objectively wrong (against natural law, for example, as Jon W mentioned) or they are not the sort of thing that should be legally enforced. But the very fact that their laws are derived from their religion is *not* a problem.

      • Blog Goliard

        Right on.

        Take that Martin Luther King, Jr. fellow, for instance…how obnoxious of him to have kept trying to make others act in accordance with his religious principles. Not everybody believes that all men are brothers…he should have backed off!

  • Bob

    “What matters, for a Catholic, is the sacrament of marriage, not filling out paperwork for the state.”
    Really? Well, then three cheers. What have we been fighting about, then?
    The same-sex marriage people are only demanding to fill out the paperwork for the state, nothing more. If we’re all agreed that sacramental and civil marriage are different from each other — and irrelevant to each other — then I don’t see what all the hub-bub is about, frankly.

    • Jon W

      “What matters, for a Catholic, is the sacrament of marriage, not filling out paperwork for the state.”

      That’s not true. Society has a role in protecting families, and Catholics, as members of society, participate in that. “Filling out paperwork” is just a dull, practical part of protecting the family, which Catholics have an interest in as members of the society. Like when I have to register my motorcycle. It’s dull, boring paperwork, but it’s necessary in order for the state to help me enjoy the great good that is riding on ordered, paved, and safe roads.

    • kenneth

      You don’t understand the theocratic imperative then! ;) It doesn’t even have the lexicon for “live and let live.” It’s as alien to them as foot pain is to a fish!

      • Jon W

        You don’t either. You are all for imposing your understanding of good on people who don’t share it. You just privilege your understanding by calling it “non-religious”, and rule ours out of court by calling it “religious”. Your move is begging the question and is entirely bogus.

        (Like pretty much all of arrogant, Western European modernism.)

  • Stu

    “Catholic libertarianism”

    No thanks.

  • Dan C

    My complaint about the culture wars has been that so much about the intra-Catholic left-vs.-right-culture war is less about ideology and ideal, and more about tactics. The separation of state involvement in marriage was identified as a tactical matter years ago (by the left), but to a strong degree, if one did not pledge allegiance to NOM and its arguments, one was “against marriage.”

    I have similarly criticized the pro-life arm of the culture wars, not for any disagreement on abortion, but because the tactics (which have been a failure politically over and over again) were elevated to the level of dogma.

    The poisonous polarization of the culture wars will require a generation to heal in our faith. Moving forward, it will be important to note those points of our faith to which we must adhere (dogma) and those actions we suggest will best exercise these points (tactics). I claim many many disagreements are over tactics, by people who have no more impact on the culture and the tactical strategy than two men in a bar arguing over when a pitcher should be pulled from the game has on the baseball manager’s actual decision. The only loss is communication and communion in our faith.

  • o.h.

    These discussions always leave me wondering what my fellow Catholics feel should be the status of my marriage: not sacramental, yet valid and blessed by the Church. Only sacramental marriages matter; we have no interest in the rest. I guess we’re in concubinage then?

  • mattmugg

    What’s NOM? Also, it’s not about tactics, necessarily, as if one should choose which local action to take based on which is most likely to further a grand (legal, societal, political) objective. Wouldn’t it be more of a witness than a tactic. When you boycott the products or refuse to invest in a company, your goal need not be to bring that company to its knees. That would be unreasonable. But you could justify your action on much more modest grounds — I don’t support this company. Therefore I won’t invest in it or buy its products. Think locally; act locally.

  • Erin Manning

    I do have some sympathy with Mark’s reader, and have wondered about the Church’s eventual position if civil marriage requirements someday made those applying for civil marriage openly deny any other definition of marriage than that approved by the State (which would put us in “Mark of the Beast” territory, possibly). It may be the case someday that the Church will agree that civil marriage is nothing but a sham and that Catholic married couples don’t have to have one, but we’re not there yet.

    It is important, though, to realize that *already* in the United States the de facto definition of marriage is as follows: “Marriage is the temporary legal recognition of one’s primary sex partner for the purpose of government benefits and inheritances purposes.” There is no legal expectation of permanence–we have no-fault divorce. There is no legal expectation of fidelity or monogamy–that’s up to the couple. There is no reference to children–thanks to artificial contraception, abortion and sterilization, children are a mere lifestyle choice who have no connection to marriage whatsoever. So how long the Church will require Catholic couples whose definition of marriage is very, very different to obtain a government certificate remains to be seen.

    Of course, how long the growing population of permanently-single-by-choice people puts up with the idea that the government owes benefits, tax breaks and inheritance rights to people just for legally designating their primary sex partner also remains to be seen.

    • Kirt Higdon

      Actually, the definition should refer to “temporary legal recognition of the other person named on the document, etc…” There is no legal requirement that it be one’s primary sex partner or one’s sex partner at all. Abolition or simple non-enforcement of laws against adultery and fornication as well as removal of the spousal exemption from laws against rape have put sex inside and outside marriage on exactly the same legal footing. Under law, marriage has no more to do with sex than it has to do with procreation, companionship, permanence, or (now) with the gender of the other person on the document. It’s simply paperwork to get government benefits. I once asked a pro-SSM lady how she defined marriage and that is exactly how she answered me – government paperwork to get tax breaks and other benefits.

  • Mitchell

    I recently read that Canon Law says that you have to be legally married in order to be canonically married. So I’m not so sure it would be a good idea to simulate a divorce.

  • TMLutas

    Civil divorce while remaining married is a mess. The question for those who are single is why would you sign up for civil marriage? Also a further issue is would a priest marry someone in a Catholic ceremony who decided they were not going to sign up for the civil law package. I think that’s something of a grey area right now. Or is it?

  • reena

    Last month, it was my birthday, the anniversary of my late husband’s death, and a time when I experienced another loss in my family. I was in total depression also because the gentleman I had been seeing for nearly a year decided to cut ties with me. All this happened at the same time, and my heart was broken. Then I found Ekaka email: and all my luck turned around – especially because the master did a wonderful spell of Love for me and my dearest companion, who decided he had made a terrible mistake by leaving me. We even took a much-needed vacation. It meant the world to me, and I have you to thank for it. I send you Prayers.